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austere luxury / graceful grains


Food movies are few and far between, but Babette’s Feast is likely the pinnacle of them. Its moments of culinary magic are delicately observed, but not fussed over. While a meal at the hands of protagonist Babette are precisely assembled, the filming of it remains stark and simple, to the point. No flashbulbs shedding hallowed attention as in the cheffy movies of today. Just a woman at work. Babette mounding caviar on toasts, gingerly freshening the colonel’s drink. The best and most gracious of hosts, she never leaves a glass half empty.  Played by the Nouvelle Vague's underrated and highly prolific actress, Stephane Audran, Babette exudes a quiet strength found in discreetness, like a friend who’s not keen on words and doesn't disclose much, perhaps doesn't find it necessary. But, when she does, a world opens up. The actress passed away this year and left a gaping hole in the cinema for characters that felt lethal and flawed, yet unmoored by the tragic.

Much has been made of humbleness and grace in regards to this film, but I would champion Babette as the epitome of confidence, supremely conscious of herself. Babette does not preen nor does she need praise. The curiosity of the contrast of course is that so modest a background could breed such indulgence and luxury, that from the seemingly spinsterish maid flows forth decadence.

+ LE COUCOU The embodiment of restrained opulence, finely tuned to yesteryear.  Giving an ounce to nostalgia and throwing the rest to flambee in spectacular, but sincere homage to the restaurants of Paris, Daniel Rose's food is refined and indulgent, its showiness upholds its class. The greatest differentiator between Le Coucou and other over-the-top, show-stopping capital R rest-au-rants (something like Carbone, no dig,  par example) is that here there are no notes of irony, no tongues-in-cheek—only on gold-rimmed plates, strewn with caviar. The dining room is a magnificent cavern for hushed conversation, certainly Occasion worthy, with service that won't make you feel second class.

+ OLLEBROD (Danish rye bread porridge) On the nose, but, never forget the incredulous look on Babette's face when her hosts/employers, a pair of Protestant sisters, instruct her on how to best prepare their daily porridge, which appears to be made the traditional Danish way--beer poured over rye.  Babette would be aghast to learn of the trendy revival of this solemn meal gaining as per new Scandinavian cuisine. I tried making my own from this Saveur recipe after clicking on it every time it came up in a search with a really robust stout from Evil Twin x Jackie O's (pasilla chili, honey, tangerine peel, cocoa nibs), so very umami-heavy it creeps toward soy sauce, and scraps of the sourdough rye from Bakeri in Greenpoint.  Results were hearty, and best tempered as per instruction with sweet (raspberries, vanilla) and fat (creme fraiche, cashews) toppings. I think I prefer those savory bowls at Grain Bar, part of Claus Meyer's Great Northern Foodhall, but overall a suitable alternative use for bread scraps if you're tired of breadcrumbs.

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